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TAXI SERVICE, for all your holiday needs while you are travelling in Hania. If you're coming to Hania and you need a taxi, maybe we can help you out. For quotes and prompt service, drop me a line at: mverivaki hotmail com

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Octopus stew with greens (Χταπόδι)

Octopus is considered a delicacy in Greek cuisine, despite its being eaten often nowadays, due to easy access to seafood and modern refrigeration methods. When grilled, it makes the standard appetiser (what the Greeks call 'meze' or 'mezedaki' to make a dish sound small enough to warrant ordering more food) to accompany ouzo; think of yourself sitting in a Greek seaside restaurant (taverna) , with fishermen picking octopus from their nets and hanging them up to dry. Tourists were mesmerised by images such as these in the mid 1960s. The octopus was hung to dry for a couple of days under the hot sun on something like a washing line on the caique it was fished in, or the taverna it was going to be cooked in; apparently this process tenderises the octopus and makes it easier to cook and eat. That's a great natural organic way to soften octopus meat, just as long as you have fresh octopus and plenty of sunshine at your disposal.

Some people have access to neither of these, but they still manage to find ways to eat tender octopus. This shows the power of the human mind to adapt, invent and create, when lacking even the most basic conditions required to perform an age-old task. Today there was no sun in Hania, just lots and lots of rain, thunderstorms and sudden temperature drops. We wish it would do this more often - Hania gets dry, dusty and dirty because it doesn't rain very often. So today's rain was a great way to get the car cleaned, as well as the balconies and outdoor staircases. I had to resort to a similar alternative to tenderise my octopussy.

Octopus makes for a tasty seafood dish. When I go to fish taverns, I love to eat it grilled, lightly dressed with vinegar and oil. The dressing makes a great dip for sourdough bread. It's a little difficult to have it like this at home, and even more difficult to satisfy everyone's taste buds with octopus. Christine saw the octopus on the kitchen benchtop: "Oooh, look at its head!" Aristotle was intrigued by the tentacles: "Don't touch those, they'll stick to your skin!" Grandmother waved her hand in the air: "Not for my stomach." Her live-in nurse was thrilled: "Mmm, no greens today." (Little did she know.)

The head of the house (the one who thinks he wears the trousers here) wanted to eat traditional Mediterranean style octopus in a red sauce with spaghetti (of all things): "That's the way everybody eats it, Maria;" he spoke affirmatively with a knowing look on his face. "Just make sure it's tender." I suggested something else: "Elbow macaroni seems more plausible, honey..." "Elbow what?" I meant ditallini pasta, something we call 'kofto' pasta here in Crete. "No, we always had it with spaghetti." Here he goes again. When he uses the phrase 'we had it', it always means at least ten years ago. The idea of spaghetti octopussy put me off the whole idea of having octopus - I hate spag bog, so I couldn't fathom slurping on spag oct either. I never include myself in meal planning. I'm always eating the bloody leftovers.

So you may wonder who I cooked the octopus for. Why did I bother? I often ask myself that question. In recent times, food has become more easily accessible and available. Food is no longer seasonal; you can eat anything you like whenever you like. Young people are more willing to try out new taste sensations: more junk food is eaten and children's tastes are accommodated more individually than in the past. There was a time when , if you didn't like what was on the table, you were told to eat bread dipped in oil, or were simply sent away from the table hungry. That's why people didn't get fat then. One meal was served; if you didn't like it, there was no other food to choose from. Children don't get a special meal in our house either; I have to be cruel to be kind. They too had leftovers.

As few people were going to dine on this dish, I decided to stew it in a light red sauce with some wild greens. "Wild greens again, Maria?" you ask me. "Isn't that what you had yesterday?" Yes, albeit in different forms. Maybe I overdo the greens bit. We have a lot growing all over the place in Hania, so I feel it's my duty to pick and eat them. I put them into food when my family least expect them, I serve them as a side dish, they go into snacks. In older times, the village dwelling Cretans ate beans and greens every day, very little meat and lots of bread if flour was available (otherwise, they ate hard brown rusks soaked in water). Research says that the Greeks are some of the fattest Europeans, and some of the heaviest smokers in the world - but they have the longest lifespan in all of Europe, while Cretans have low cases of heart disease. I don't know whether their traditional diet is to blame (in the positive sense) for this; I wonder if my horta-foraging mother would have still been alive had she not moved to New Zealand. She died of breast cancer, the only woman in her longevity-rich family to have suffered this fate.

So I cooked the octopus in a way I remember my mother cooking it in New Zealand. I can't remember how she tenderised it, but I have a feeling she let it stew for a long time. I don't remember her bashing octopus on rocks, hanging octopus to dry in the driving rain of windy Wellington or placing it with wine bottle corks in a covered pot. All I remember was that the octopus was always soft and easy to chew, and no one complained of it being inedible.

You need:
1 small octopus, slightly tenderised by placing the washed cleaned octopus in a lidded pot with no water, and simmering on the lowest possible heat for 15 minutes (using a wine bottle cork is completely optional - I didn't use it, and the octopus still came out super tender)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion cut into thin slices
2 large tomatoes, grated
1 small glass of wine (I only had white wine available)
a small bunch of parsley, chopped finely
a small bunch of fennel, chopped finely
salt and pepper
(For a more substantial meal, add more greens, such as spinach, silverbeet and leeks - you won't regret it; I didn't have any left from my last pie-making round)
Tenderising the octopus helps in the sense that the octopus won't need to cook a long time in the sauce, and it will decrease the need for extra water in the sauce - stewing the octopus in the sauce may soften the meat, but it will make a stew too soupy. If you don't tenderise it beforehand, just let it cook longer with more water.

Saute the onion in the oil in a pot over low heat. Add the octopus chopped into smaller pieces and mix them about to cover them in oil. Then add the chopped greens and mix them in well. Add the wine and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cover the pot with a lid. Let the octopus simmer on a low heat until it's cooked to your liking. There is no time limit on this: just jab it with a knife, press it between your fingers or, better still, taste it. If you do serve this with macaroni elbows (or ditallini), the best way to cook them is in the stew, by adding just enough water to cook the macaroni, so that the stew doesn't turn too watery (this is definitely what I'd do next time I cook this dish, and it will be soon).

When the time came to serve it, I boiled up some macaroni elbows for Margaret and took it down to her. She liked what she saw. "Your mother-in-law will eat this, it smells delicious." It looked good too; the small pasta shapes didn't detract too much attention from the squiggly bits of pinky red octopus meat. It made it stand out in the plate. I was in a dilemma: should I cook up the same macaroni for hubby, or go for spaghetti, the only pasta he ever eats, the reason why I hate eating pasta? I fried some potatoes instead - in fact, this is what I remember my mother serving up with this octopus stew, one of the few times she fried potatoes at home, since this was what she was doing all day long in the shop. That combination looked beautiful, too. And when I served it with a green salad and some feta cheese, I think I couldn't have done better. My husband also approved; chips go with everything. When he went downstairs, he also found out that his mother tried the macaroni in the octopus sauce, but found it too al dente for her liking. Didn't she say she didn't want any?

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

MORE SEAFOOD RECIPES:
Bakaliaros - bakaliaraki
Mussels sauce
Psarosoupa
Shrimp in lemon
Squid stew
Squid fried
Taramasalata

Friday, 28 March 2008

Spanakopita spiral for Lent (Στριφτή χορτόπιτα νηστίσιμη)

I love any sort of spinach pie. Give me anything green encased in crust - I dig it (although I myself may not have dug it). There's the last remaining lot of spinach and silverbeet to chop up. The pastry maker sold me the filo (phyllo) yesterday - but I'm bored of making the same pies again and again: square kalitsounia, half-moon kalitsounia, pastry twists, spanakopites. How about a strifti pita (spiral pie)? This sort of pita is made in Northern Greece, but it's become a popular shape for spanakopita and hortopita all over Greece, and is sold in traditional fast food outlets here in Crete.


Recently I came across a recipe for seskoulopita (sefklopita), a strange name, meaning silverbeet (Swiss chard) pie. Although I could have made it using only Swiss chard, I added spinach, simply because we had plenty of it. The recipe also included cheese, but I wanted to make something I remember my mother making in New Zealand during Lent - lenten kalitsounia, which were always fried in a shallow pan (unlike the kalitsounia which included cheese, which were baked in the oven).

Here's a very rustic recipe for a pie using wild greens. Don't be put off by the 'raw' taste you imagine you will encounter when you bite into it; I had friends over from New Zealand, and everyone thought it was a super vegetarian pie. My son ate one eighth on his own. Lenten spanakopites/hortopites are also made and sold in takeaway shops during Lent. Some people like their food simple.

You need:
3 thick filo pastry sheets, cut into halves (ie six sheets in all) for a 36cm round tin (but you can substitute thin filo pastry for thick - you will then need six sheets, and you will leave them intact - they will be folded in half instead)
a large bunch of spinach, chopped finely
a large bunch of silverbeet, chopped finely
1 large onion, chopped finely
a few sprigs of herbs that you have handy: I added parsley, mint and fennel, all finely chopped, as well as dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons of dry breadcrumbs (to soak up any excess moisture)
salt, pepper
For this pie to be successful, you need to make sure that all the greens are clean (no grit) and DRY. The less water retained in the cleaned and washed greens, the less likely the ingredients will spill out of the pastry which will break open (if it's too damp) while cooking. This is why I added breadcrumbs to the finely chopped greens - to soak up any excess moisture. You can also substitute semolina for breadcrumbs; it depends on what you have handy. The olive oil is added to the greens to keep them compact. The greens will not wilt and cook properly if they are too dry.

Mix all the ingredients together. Form long sausages (or snakes) with the rectangle pastry sheets. Place them in rounds in the tin. I started my spiral from the rim; Peter started his cheesy striftopita from the centre. Form the strips into a continuous spiral. When all the twists have been laid, brush them with oil (for a completely vegan lenten version) or butter or egg (if you can't fathom the idea that there is no cheese in the pie - I brushed it with egg, more out of habit; I simply broke the egg into a bowl, and before I realised that this was supposed to be a lenten pie, the bowl of egg was finished). Cook the pie for forty minutes at moderate heat, till the pie crust is golden brown.

When you are ready to serve the pie, cut it lengthwise into quarters, and then cut the pieces in half again. The pie is meant to be eaten in spiral bits, rather than as a piece, otherwise it may fall to pieces and lose its shape. I served this meal as part of a very green luncheon (which included stuffed silverbeet dolmades topped with meat patties) for Ian and Anne, who had wearily travelled from so far away to see me, so this post is dedicated to them. You might also like to look at my leek spiral pie, another delicious use of filo pastry and greens.

And if you don't want to use filo pastry, why not try using this pie filling in caneloni, like Chef Richard did in Burundi!
chef richard in burundi cooking greek-inspired food by me


©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

MORE WILD GREENS RECIPES:
Kalitsounia fried
Kalitsounia in the oven
Marathopites
Wild asparagus
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Horta in winter
Horta in summer
Sorrel
Swiss chard (silverbeet)
Eggs with mustard greens
Mountain tea

MORE PASTRY RECIPES:
Kalitsounia fried
Easter kalitsounia
Prasopita
Kalitsounia in the oven
Marathopites
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Tiropitakia
Filo-pastry making
Sfakianes pites
Summer kalitsounia

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Filo pastry - phyllo (Φύλλο)


This is my filo pastry maker. He works in a little basement with a few stairs that lead up to the road, on an old street behind the Agora of Hania. How can the street be old? It's dusty, and the pre-war buildings look very tired from the weight of the metal and glass that has been added to them to modernise their appearance and make them attract tourists. There's also a site with ancient ruins further down the road, sectioned off with wire netting, to keep people and their rubbish out.

When I visited the pastry maker today, he was in the middle of stretching out a piece of dough. His hair and eyelashes were tinged with flour, and so was the staircase and the banister.

Good morning, can I take a photo of you while your working?
Sure, do you want any filo, or should I just go back to work?
Oh, I want a kilo of filo, too!
OK, I'll get it for you first.
He comes up the stairs.
Thick or thin?
Thick, please, for kalitsounia (of course I wanted it for hortopita, spanakopita, kalitsounakia, tiropitakia and spiral pie, too, but I kept this to myself). How long have you been doing this job?
Oh, years and years, over 50.
You've been running around like that for over 50 years?!
Yes, and I don't think I'll ever stop until it's time to go away for good, if you get what I mean.
We laugh together.
Exercise is good for everyone. I can't sit around in an office, never ever. I notice that he is a very slim man for his age.
Is that your father? I point to the photo on the wall.
No, no, that's the owner's father, the young lady who you see here many times. I was a friend of her father's. A kilo of... oh, it's more than a kilo. Would you like me to remove some?
No, no, I'll keep it, I'm sure I'll need it.
Here you are. I pay him. Now you can take your photo.
He goes downstairs. The tourists are starting to come in now, and they take photos of me. Every year, they take hundreds of photos. I've seen myself in the same pose in photos taken by different people hundreds of times. Tourists love this sort of thing.
Is it difficult work?
What, stretching the dough? This is peanuts. The difficulty was when we didn't have mixers and I had to mix the dough myself. Those were hard days, I can tell you...

I watch him stretching the dough. When he's finished, the filo (phyllo) covers the whole table in a perfect square with rounded corners. It is then covered with hessian sacking material, which keeps the dough soft and allows it to breathe without drying out. It is then cut up into smaller squares to make it easier to package it and for customers to work with it.

When I finish the video, I thank him and say good-bye - until I need more pastry. Why bother making my own? This is the real thing.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

PASTRY RECIPES:
Kalitsounia fried
Kalitsounia for Easter
Prasopita
Kalitsounia in the oven
Marathopites
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Tiropitakia
Sfakianes pites
Summer kalitsounia
Spiral pie

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

In search of food (Φαγητό στο ψάξιμο)

We are all guilty of it - invading other people's privacy. I love to pry into other people's food forages. I do it out of curiosity. By looking into someone's refrigerator or supermarket trolley, I can find out (or imagine) what kind of food they're eating on a daily basis and how healthy their food purchases are. I know I'm just being nosy, but it can also be quite amusing. We all know the phrase "you are what you eat." And being very mindful of what my children eat, and how it might affect their health, it's only natural that I'm curious to find out other people's attitudes to food and compare my ideas with theirs.

We invade other people's privacy every time we look into someone's shopping trolley at the supermarket, and start imagining what they'll be eating for dinner. The Northern Europeans (primarily Brits and Germans) who shop at the local supermarkets here in Hania seem to fill theirs up with alcohol, with just a few bits and pieces of edibles sticking out amongst the cans and bottles: two tomatoes in a plastic bag, some packaged sliced ham, long-life sliced bread, canned peaches in syrup (even though the fresh produce section is brimming with the fresh stuff). The tourist residents (those Europeans who have bought a home in a remote area of Hania, and spend part of the year here, or come here to retire) are even more hilarious: in amongst the aforementioned, there are always large amounts of canned petfood and cat litter.

We also invade others' privacy every time we place a hit counter on our site. The minute we open our web page (the euphemism for 'blog'), we look up the statistics to find the answers to all the WH question words and phrases you can think of concerning the site:
  • who's been accessing it
  • when they entered
  • where they came from
  • what search engine they used
  • what words they used to search the web
  • what sites they found
  • why they entered our site
  • how long they stayed for
  • how many times they visited
  • which post was the most popular
  • and so on.
Most searches usually contain one or more key words: fava, freeze aubergines, Greek lasagne; the searcher usually finds links that are appropriate to what s/he is looking for. Some searches are more complex, more like a sentence: how to make plain cake, how many calories in potato fritters, rice cooked in leaves are some word strings that have led people to my site. Some of the people who visit my site return to it: maybe they like the food I cook, or the stories I tell. My husband thinks that the only reason why they return is because they like the photos, which just goes to show what he thinks of my cooking. But most visitors will be one-timers looking for specific information, which they may or may not get from my site, despite Google leading them to it. Here are some howlers (in order of howling sound, 1 being the loudest) that I've collected over the last few days from my statistics site counter. The search-string has been copied word-for-word.
  1. what goes with Greek salad: Lovers of the traditional Greek village salad will know just how ridiculous this sounds, and I'm not prepared to accept any criticism for criticising my readers. Our famous tomato salad could go with any main course - unless you're having horta...
  2. Greek style lentils without tomato: If anyone has a Greek mama that made fakes without tomato, do let me know.
  3. how to cook moussaka without aubergines: Haven't we already said that moussaka is the internationally famous Greek eggplant-potato-mince dish, and if it doesn't contain one of those main ingredients, then it can't be called plain old moussaka, but it must be called eggplant-less moussaka?
  4. frozen aubergine slices buy: Surely it's easier and cheaper to do this yourself than to actively seek out such a product; I suspect it must have been someone who doesn't want to stain their hands from the freshly cut flesh.
  5. cauliflower shelf life: Was that cauliflower organic? Soil-grown? Hothouse? In this day and age, we need to be more aware of what we're putting into our bodies.
  6. forgot my son's birthday: I used that in a storyline (the word 'nearly' appeared before 'forgot'); I hope they enjoyed my tale - but could you guess the post they landed on?
  7. what does the blue dragon eat: If blue dragons existed, I suppose they would have to feed off something... but you can always find out who ate blue dragon by clicking on the link.
  8. how is pizza made in Greece: The same way it's made all over the world, I suppose, unless you call ladenia pizza, which strictly speaking, it isn't. Even my koumbara knew that when I served up ladenia to her family: "where's the ham and cheese?" they all asked.
  9. blog pilafi: In between my link and a fellow blogger's was this one (probably the one that was being hunted down): 'Pilafi kai parthenes (virgins)'.
  10. verivaki recipe: Could the New Zealander that used this search string please come forward?...
And if there's anyone who would like to do a blog event on search string howlers, shopping trolleys or fridge contents, I'd love to hear about the results!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

See also:
Taste sensationlism
Western diets

To eat or not to eat?
Googling food
Eating locally
A day in the field

Monday, 24 March 2008

Salt cod (bakaliaros) for 25 March (Μπακαλιάρος - βακαλάος για την 25η Μαρτίου)


(THIS POST HAS APPEARED IN about.com)

25 March - an important day in the history of Greece. First and foremost, it is the festival of the Annunciation: the Virgin Mary was told by an angel that she would bear Christ (and give birth to him exactly nine months later on 25 December - He wasn't premature). Then, in 1821, Greece decided that it had had enough of the Ottoman Empire, and on this day or thereabouts (the uprising against the Turks started a few days before that, according to my children's schoolbooks), Greece gained its independence after 400 years of tyrranical rule by pashas and the like. The day before the celebration, children go to school and celebrate the occasion with poem recitals and songs related to the bravery and courage of the Greek nation. On the day itself, there are parades in every town of Greece, with schoolchildren and army personnel marching down the high street bearing the flag, while the spectators lining the streets clap and wave smaller flags. Everyone proudly sings the national anthem standing up. How can a seasonal day such as this one go uncelebrated without an appropriate food dedicated to it?

Greek Independence Day poses a small problem for the religious food calendar. It always falls during the Great Lent, a time when the ultra-righteous Greek Orthodox will abstain from meat, fish and dairy products. But the fast may be broken on this day (due to its importance, and the fact that it is a double celebration). It is always celebrated with a fish meal (as is Palm Sunday), all kinds of fish being the food of the day. Thank goodness we're so seasonally minded here - the fish tavernas will be doing a booming trade. That's why my family will be staying at home and enjoying our home-cooked fishy meal; we can guarantee that the food will be served on time, and there'll be plenty of food to go round - on days like this, be prepared for some dishes running out if you don't get to the taverna early enough.

Salt cod (μπακαλιάρος - bakaliaros, βακαλάος - vakalaos, depending on which part of Greece you come from) became a very popular choice for fish during the war period. It's not a fish that's swimming near Greek waters, but must have caught on when Greeks started travelling and trading products with other cultures. Salt cod stores well, so people who don't have easy access to fish on a daily basis - people living in mountainside villages for instance - can buy it before it is going to be cooked, without the worry that it will go off. It's readily available in supermarkets, salted, filleted and boneless, to save time and cleaning up for the busy cook like myself.

Salt cod, when desalinated (in Greek, we call this 'sweetening'), is allowed to drain, then it is cut up into small pieces, floured (or battered) and deep fried in oil. It kind of reminds me of New Zealand fish and chips, and children like it very much because it is a very clean looking meaty fish, almost sweet to the taste. It's often (or should I say always) eaten with a beetroot salad (boiled beetroot, including the red-green leaves, dressed in oil, salt and vinegar) and skordalia, a traditional Greek garlic dip made from mashed stale bread (or boiled potatoes), garlic, oil and vinegar. I'm not really changing the tradition, just substituting it with locally grown, carbon footprint-reduced alternatives: we're having it with stamnagathi and guacamole. Boiled greens are always a marvellous accompaniment to any fried fish and the avocados come from my uncles' trees.

To desalinate salt cod, let it soak overnight in water. You can chop up the fish into the size you want for the meal you're cooking, or keep it whole; it's easier to work with when it's in smaller pieces. It also desalinates faster. Change the water 3-5 times, depending on how salty it is (you can taste the fish raw to test it). The one I bought hadn't been kept in so much salt, so it didn't need a lot of changes of water. If you are going to fry it, the fish needs to be drained. Lay it out on a flat surface (the draining board of your kitchen benchtop will do fine) and weigh it down with something heavy (like a jar full of pickled peppers, or a large pot filled with water). Then, it's ready for dredging in flour and frying in oil. Some people like to remove the silver skin and/or fry the fillets in batter, but that's a personal choice. Crispy fried bakaliaros can only be achieved by good desalination and draining of the salt cod once you've desalinated it; the less salt or water it retains, the crispier it will fry.

Unknown to many people, it is also fished in baby form, and is my personal favorite as a whole (gutted) fried fresh fish. It is labelled 'bakaliaraki', but it is actually a variety known as European hake. I did ask if it was the same fish as 'bakaliaros' (cod); the store owner told me it was. Believe what you may, but if you come to Greece, try this variety fried whole after being cleaned and gutted. It's delicious. Fresh fish is always better than preserved fish, so if you can get this small fish fresh, don't treat it as simply bait, as a New Zealand cousin of mine assumed of the array of fresh whitebait, picarel and other small fish sold at a typical Greek fresh fish shop!

We mustn't forget poor granny with her few good teeth and the need for soft lightly cooked food. She likes her salt cod poached (po-SE, she said to me, in a good French accent), with stewed leeks and onions, in a lemon sauce, thickened with a little flour. Fried fish is too heavy for older people's dietary needs.

POACHED SALT COD with LEEKS in a LEMON SAUCE

You need:
4 small pieces of salt cod, desalinated
1/4 cup olive oil
2 leeks (white parts only), chopped small
1 onion, finely chopped
the juice of a large lemon
1 teaspoon of flour
NO SALT - desalinated salt cod is salty enough!
pepper (optional - not for granny"!)

As this is a poached dish for invalids whose taste preferences are blander than the average person's, you need to stew (rather than saute) the leeks and onion, by heating the oil and adding the vegetables with 1/4 cup of water in the pot. Simmer over low heat with the pot covered. When the vegetables have softened considerably, add the fish pieces. Let them cook for about 15 minutes over low heat, again with the lid covered. Fish cooks very quickly; if overdone, it loses its shape. Mix the flour with the lemon juice so that it is not lumpy. When the fish is done, pour the mixture over it and shake the pot from side to side to even out the sauce.

I loved the sauce from this dish. It makes a marvellous soup base, and the whole meal is really stomach-warming on a cold day (which is what this year's Independence Day turned out for us). It goes well with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the delicious tangy sauce.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

MORE SEAFOOD RECIPES:
Mussels sauce
Psarosoupa
Shrimp in lemon
Squid stew
Squid fried
Taramasalata
Octopus stew

MORE FESTIVALS:
Christmas
New Year's cake
Clean Monday
Ash Thursday
Red eggs for Greek Easter
Fasting and Great Lent

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Taste sensationalism (Αίσθηση γεύσης)

I do a lot of shopping these days, but it's mainly trips to the supermarket, to help out other members of the family. The supermarket is a nightmare - never take kids with you, avoid bargains and sort out your trolley before you get to the checkout. You might have beard this advice before many times; try and heed it as often as you can. This time round, it was I who fell into temptation.

I like to try out new ingredients and flavours, just like any foodie. Fellow food bloggers do the same thing, and learn all about new ways to cook old recipes. Laurie recently tried saba in a lentil stew, Peter added liquid smoke to taramasalata, and I hear dukkah is all the rage in New Zealand, plonked on the table and doused over anything else that's being eaten. We all like to treat ourselves every now and then. For a number of years, I'd been tempted to try out olive pate. Posher restaurants offer it with bread as a dip before the ordered meals arrive. This is what first put me off it - you end up eating so much bread with oily dip that you can't eat the meal you ordered. Every time I passed the product on the supermarket shelves, I kept postponing my taste sensation. Just recently, one of the Greek companies that produce it brought out a "buy one, get one free" offer for their complete range of olive pates: 100g jars of each of green olive paste, black olive paste and Kalamata olive paste. I took the plunge. I didn't do it because of the special offer, the discount meant nothing to me. I just wanted to try it.

I like to try new bits and pieces too, but from past experience, I find that I often end up chucking them out because I kept them past their expiry date. Maybe they didn't go with what I was cooking on a particular day, or they waited to be used, but other food preparation took priority. Maybe I just forgot to use them. That's just more proof to say that I didn't really need them, not the way I cook, and for the people I cook.

I don't want to criticise the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Nigella Lawson, but their recipes for, let's say, pumpkin soup (Gordon's) and chocolate muffins (Nigella's) aren't really that original or different from the basic internationally well-known standard recipe for these dishes. And I'm not trying to say that Greeks are backward, slow country bumpkins who have no desire to broaden their horizons, and adamantly stand in the way of progress. They may seem like that to some people, but as this is a food blog, let's stick to the food sector. A Greek menu may seem deja vu to a package tourist who has seen the same food listed in hundreds of Greek restaurants within and outside of Greece. No matter where you go, pastitsio, fasolada, and moussakawill taste pretty much the same, with similar ingredients used to make the dishes. A pastitsio can't contain soya mince (but if it did, then you'd have to label it vegetarian lasagne), fasolada can't contain red kidney beans instead of white haricot beans with a bit of chili mixed into it (because that would be a chili con carne without the carne), moussaka can't have parsnips instead of potatoes (otherwise it would be called parsnip moussaka), and you can't "cook a moussaka without aubergine" (as someone asked using a google search, and ended up on my site), and nor can you cook "Greek lentil stew without tomatoes" (another poor sod asked this). A Greek village salad could only differ from one place to the other in terms of the firmness of the tomato, or the genuineness of the feta cheese used to make it.

Don't get me wrong, but most times, Greek cuisine just doesn't need all these newfangled bits and pieces added to it. Greeks love to eat the same old stuff day in, day out. If you change the recipe just a little bit, they'll tell you that what you say you cooked isn't that at all, it's something else, and you shouldn't give it the name of a famous Greek dish, because it's not made in the same way as that famous Greek dish. When Greeks talk to each other about what they eat, they'll say, for instance, "We had biftekia today", "We're having soutzoukakia for lunch" ορ "I'm cooking bakaliaros today", an image is conjured up in the other person's mind, not much different to the one that first speaker had in his mind. The conversation might take a turn such as this one: "Biftekia? My father's favorite dish!", "Soutzoukakia? My mum makes those, too!" and "Bakaliaros? With skordalia (garlic dip) and beetroot salad, right?" They have common beliefs about those foods. By serving them up with a new flavour added to (or a traditional flavour subtracted from) them, those people are likely to say: "Did you notice that the biftekia smelled of coriander? He has no idea about Greek food!", "She served beetroot salad with soutzoukakia? She's crazy!" and "Bakaliaros without beetroot salad and skordalia? What a scrooge!"

So why could a particular traditional Greek dish taste so different from one cook to another? To my traditional Greek family, the answer is perfectly simple: there was too much/little salt, there was too much/little oil, the ingredients weren't fresh, it was over/under-cooked, a sauce tasted soupy because there was too much water in it, a soup tasted stewy because there was not enough water, and so on. Here's what happened one day, when I served up lentil stew, and left for work just as the whole family had sat down to eat lunch.

My son says: "This doesn't taste like fakes. There's something wrong with it."
My daughter says: "I know what Mum did. She threw all the ingredients in the pot together instead of putting them into the pot one by one."
My husband says: "There's nothing wrong with the fakes - now eat your lunch and shut up!" all the time in full knowledge that there IS something wrong with the fakes, but preferring to hide his fears in front of the children lest they remain starved, or that he would have to prepare another meal himself for them.

When I came home, I was told what happened at lunch. I tried the fakes, and yes, there was something "wrong"; I hadn't added any salt, pepper or oregano. So I did just that, and the lentil stew tasted pretty much what my family knows lentil stew tastes like, no matter where they eat it.

We may be slow to catch on to new ideas, but it's sometimes a good thing, a bloody good thing, in fact. Hania, for example, is a summer resort town which fills to bursting point during the summer with primarily Northern European tourists, but it still doesn't have KFC, McDonalds or Starbucks (yet - I am not saying they will never come here; Starbucks is opening in April, 2008). If you'd like some fried chicken, you have to go to the children's and young people's food outlets and ask for chicken nuggets; otherwise, you can go to a psitopoleio and eat it grilled. Want a Big Mac instead? You'll have to drive out to Rethimno (an hour away), and make sure it's in the summer season, because that's when it's open (guess who it opens for...). Wanna Starbucks coffee? Drive to Iraklio - two hours away. Are you surprised? Doesn't that say something about Hania's cultural heritage? Half a million people descend on our island in the summer months, and no one complains of the lack of these institutions.

Lulu summarises this point quite succinctly: "Like most Americans, I did not grow up eating a well-defined cuisine. My mom is a good cook, and we ate well, but our meals were derived from a chaotic mix of sources: a norwegian recipe here, a few german recipes there, pizza, lasagna, shake-and-bake, and lots of church-potluck-style hot dishes. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it left me vulnerable to the throw-everything-in method of cooking."

At mamastaverna, there is a hilarious dialogue of what could happen if you tried to change a Greek recipe to make it more, let's say, commercially Western. It reminds me so much of how my parents felt about New Zealand food, and is well worth reading. Here's my version of what I suspect would happen if ever I served up Laurie's lentil stew with saba syrup, Peter's taramasalata with liquid smoke, feta cheese and toasted village bread spread with olive oil and sprinkled with dukkah, a perfectly balanced meal, but nevertheless, not quite as Greek as my husband, a stickler if ever there was one for traditional Greek food, knows it:

My husband has just come home, very tired from driving a taxi in a town filled with reckless drivers. "Hi honey, I'm home. Is lunch ready?" "Of course it is, my dearest, we're having fakes and taramasalata with feta cheese today." He loves lentil stew. "Here you are." I dish it up for him. He starts eating. After ingesting the first mouthful of fakes, he suddenly stops chewing. "Ti sto kalo evales stis fakes? Portokalada?" (What on earth did you put in the lentil stew? Orange juice?) I've made a point of lying through my teeth every time I serve up traditional food with a new added twist. "Are you crazy?" I say to him. He dips his bread into the taramasalata and eats it. "Kala, posi ora epsines thn taramosalata? Tin ekapses!" (Well, how long were you cooking that taramasalata for? You've burnt it!) I have a good excuse for that one. "Taramasalata is never cooked, dear, you must be mistaken." He slices the feta cheese, which has a little dukkah sprinkled over it (instead of the normal oregano). It doesn't take very long to watch him choke on it. "Ma ton Theo, prospatheis na me dilitiriaseis mesimeriatika? Ti evales stin feta? Tsili?" (In the name of God, are you trying to poison me at high noon? What did you put on the feta? Chili?) If you want a divorce from a Cretan, this is all you need to do. I'm not the only one to get an earful when I change a recipe; believe me, it happens all the time here.

I so looked forward to trying that olive paste. Buy two, get one free, said the advertising board. Green, black and Kalamata olives turned into a pate spread. I tried the Kalamata pate first with granary bread - my God, was it salty, I nearly choked. Then I tried the black one, this time with carrot sticks - that one was salty, too; λύσσα, as the Greeks say, salty enough to drive you mad. I haven't opened the last pot yet. I am in no hurry to do so. It may be one of those pots that I forget to use one day, because it simply won't suit my cooking and dining regime. Maybe it was just the brand; I could try another one instead. But I am pretty sure that Greek cuisine had other ideas in mind for the ubiquitous olive, and it definitely wasn't pate.

This post is dedicated to Lulu for the great understanding she has for her friend's mother's cooking.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

See also:
Western diets
Googling food

To eat or not to eat?
Eating locally
A day in the field

Silverbeet - Swiss chard (Σέσκουλα)


Silverbeet used to grow in our New Zealand garden without being invited. It was not my mother's vegetable of choice. She used to gather all manner of horta, from our garden, the public parks of Wellington and the pine forest of Mount Victoria, but she only picked silverbeet in desperate times. She said something about the taste and that it contained too much water. The silverbeet that grew in our garden was darker green than the Greek variety, and the leaves were larger - all that rain and brown soil, probably. It wasn't as bitter as dandelion greens or vlita (amaranth); even spinach has a tang to it, which silverbeet doesn't. So I was quite surprised when I came to Greece to find that silverbeet (seskola, sefkola, sefkla) was widely grown and people used it in all kinds of dishes, much the same way as spinach.

My uncles were clearing the garden today in the village. So far, I have received about 10 kilos of spinach from them, which has all been turned into spanakopites, hortopites, spanakorizo and kalitsounia. I made a spanakopita and asked my husband to take it to them as a gift (andnot to forget to bring back a lettuce and some lemons from their garden). He returned with a bin liner full of seskoula. "Don't you ever use this stuff?" I had asked them once. "Only if there's a war coming." I should have known; habits borne through war and poverty die hard. Seskoula were considered poor man's spinach. Since they grow on their own, needing very little attention, only a person who didn't have enough land of their own to cultivate other horta and vegetables would have to resort to picking them for food, along with sorrel, mustard greens and nettles (for which I really must get over my prejudices and start using them from next season). No wonder my mother smirked whenever she saw silverbeet being sold at the local grocer's. She was thinking that, of all the horta in the world, who'd buy and eat that one? I was confused. "So why do you let it grow rampant?" I questioned my uncles. I should have guessed the answer to that one, too, given that they are organic farmers. "Keeps away the bugs."

Eating wild greens ιsn't exactly unheard of in New Zealand; the Maori had been eating them for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Pakeha. I remember a school outing at a teacher's house in Karori. I had never been to the northern suburbs before; I was a born-and-bred Mt Victorian (where Lord of the Rings was filmed), attending Clyde Quay School. Vegetarianism and a general return-to-nature way of thinking was very much in vogue in the mid-70s; it suited hippiedom to a tee. We had been on some kind of educational visit concerning nature; one of the teachers explained the theory behind vegetarianism, and then showed us the edible greens that were growing in the wild in her garden, which had a carefully tended lawn surrounded by flower beds where various aromatic herbs were growing. It was a typical drizzly day in Wellington. We sat in a kind of conservatory to shelter from the damp. She then made a salad with the greens she collected for our perusal - I clearly remember fennel being included - and invited all the children to eat them as a spread over buttered granary bread. She was also very interested to hear about my mother's use of greens and how we ate them at home. Most of my classmates tried the open sandwiches that the teacher made for us, but most only took one bite and refused to finish it off. Fair enough, it wasn't for everyone.

I'm starting to wonder whether that was the turning point for me; although my mother had been picking wild horta for so many years, I never used to eat them, never being able to see them as real food (since no one else at school said they ate them) until one day (I remember it was a Friday), I decided that they were delicious and ate a whole plateful. My mother couldn't believe her eyes when I asked for a serving of horta. She didn't ask about what had made me re-think the horta business, preferring just to bask in the happiness all mothers get when they see their children eating the healthy food she cooks for them. I think I felt guilty that I was eating horta at a teacher's house when I had been refusing to eat them for so long at our own home. Horta are such a healthful but laborious food to eat when you have to pick and clean and wash and cook and serve them yourself. Serving horta to your family means you feel the greatest love for them because of all that work you put into such a meal. When my children grow up and read this, I hope they understand why there have always been so many horta in their food.

What do you do with two kilos of highly perishable silverbeet (you've got to use it pretty much as quickly as you pick it, especially since it's organic)? Apart from the obvious (hortopita, kalitsounia, spanakopita, striftopita or spanakorizo with the small leaves and tender stalks), they make a marvellous wrapping for dolmades (the middle-sized leaves make dolmadakia, the diminutive form of dolmades, the grapevine leaf rolls stuffed with rice, while the larger leaves can be used to line the base of the tin or pot, and as a cover for the stuffed leaves), and they make a brilliantly tasty addition to stews with seafood, meat or beans, as Laurie has made it. I have also heard of their being used boiled as in horta, but this one is definitely not for me; we have plenty of stamnagathi available at the moment - it is at the end of its season, and the price here in Hania has dropped from 8 to 4 euro a kilo. I suppose I could also put some away in the deep freeze and save it for a rainy day, as we say, but Crete is covered in edible green foliage almost the whole year round. It would be a shame to waste electricity on saving somehting that comes fresh in different forms, depending on the season. As you can guess, I have a lot of work to do if I want to use while it is still in its prime. Don't get me wrong; I won't be feeding everyone grass the whole week, but the truth is that if anyone complains, they'd better make sure I'm not holding a kitchen knife...

These oven-cooked dolmades came out beautifully. Blanched silverbeet leaves are much easier to roll up than sorrel, and they make beautiful perfectly shaped parcels. I used basmati rice (an oriental touch to a Mediterranean speciality) in the same mixture as for yemista, they can be cooked in the pot (especially good with mince added and cooked in an egg and lemon sauce) or the oven. My kitchen stayed perfumed all morning from the intoxicating aromas exuding form the oven.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

MORE RICE RECIPES:
Simple pilafi rice for children
Spanakorizo

Dolmadakia
Yemista - ayemista

MORE WILD GREENS RECIPES:
Kalitsounia fried
Kalitsounia in the oven
Marathopites
Spiral pie
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Horta in winter
Horta in summer
Sorrel
Eggs with mustard greens
Mountain tea
Octopus stew
Wild asparagus

Friday, 21 March 2008

The daily shopping (Ψώνια καθημερινής βάσης)

"Good morning, Mama, do you need anything from the shops?" Dimitra asked her bedridden mother-in-law, even though she knew that the question was pointless. Supermarket shopping, which she loathed, had now become a daily morning chore. If it wasn't a carton of milk that was needed, then it was half a dozen carrots or a couple of bananas - her mother-in-law believed in buying as fresh as possible, and would bin anything that her sight deceived her into believing that it was stale or had gone off, even if its sell-by date hadn't passed, or it was practically unblemished. Neither she nor her live-in nurse kept shopping lists. "We'll be in town today. I'm taking the children to their clubs."

As Dimitra spoke, Harikleia waved her wiry hand in the air. "I don't think you're in a position to know my needs."

Dimitra had heard so many different versions of this so many times that she had now become completely immune to feeling any degree of insult by it. "OK," she said, keeping her tone neutral so as not to show her broiling ire; she knew that before she had stepped out onto the threshold, somebody would think of something that had run out, each item spontaneously emerging as if its need was precipitated at that very moment. She tur
ned to leave the house. "Margaret, do you need anything?" she asked the live-in Bulgarian nurse.

"I've run out of honey, you know," Harikelia said, just as Margaret opened her mouth.

"Yiani gave me the honey jar. I'll get it filled for you," Dimitra answered nonplussed. She had asked Yiani to fill the jar with the honey that they had in their own house produced by her beekeeper cousin, but Yiani told her to get the jar filled from the Agora where his mother usually bought her honey. "Can she really tell the difference?" Dimitra's mind was on the extra weight she'd have to carry in her bag.

"Are you going to the Agora?" asked Harikleia.

"Yes, I am," she replied.

"What I want is a really good chicken," Harikleia spoke as she stared at the wall. Before she had broken her leg, she did all her shopping without anyone's help, not even her son's. She'd order a taxi, be dropped off at the bank to pick up her pension, then go across the road to the Agora. Throughout her married and widowed life, after she had left the village, the Agora had been her supermarket and shopping centre combined. Everything she needed came from there. But now, this privilege - her mobility as an octogenarian - had been taken away from her without any prior warning. And now she had to rely on the foreign wife of her son, who bought in bulk and always from the local supermarket, where the products could be lying on the shelves for goodness knows how long before they were sold.

"Mama, you know I'm no good when it comes to buying meat." Yiani had picked up a similar prejudice against all supermarket-bought meat, no matter how good it tasted before he was told where she'd bought it from. One minute, he'd be licking his fingers, telling her the chicken was as tender as boiled potato. "Mmm, where did you get this chicken from?" As soon as she told him it was from the supermarket, he'd be spitting out his last bite and casting his plate aside: "I'll just have some salad and bread." She knew better than to pretend that she could buy the kind of chicken meat her mother-in-law wanted.

When she first came to live with them, as a new bride, Dimitra was taken on a shopping trip to the butcher's with her husband and his mother. As they entered the butcher's at the back entrance of the Agora, the same stall that she'd been buying from for years, Harikleia, clutching her handbag and dressed in a black skirt, black blouse, black blazer, black shoes and black stockings, walked slowly up to the counter - time always seemed immaterial to her - and spoke slowly and clearly, as if she were talking to someone who was hard of hearing. "I'm wanting some goat, today." The butcher stared blankly at the carcasses that were hanging from the meat hooks and pointed to them. "Yes, but is it really goat?" Harikleia smiled sarcastically. Dimitra wondered why she had to ask the butcher this question; after all, she had been shopping from this person for so many years. "It's goat," the butcher glared back at her. Yiani stood next to his mother, waiting to speak when told to. "Have you got any goat with its tail still attached?" Dimitra felt uncomfortable; she would choose divorce rather than enter a butcher's and ask to see an animal's backside, and why on earth couldn't she just buy lamb and be done with it, anyway? "Spring lamb contains too much cholesterol, and a goat's tail looks distinctive, so he can't switch it with lamb, which always costs less." She wondered if her parents used to pose the same kind of questions to the butchers in Courtenay Place in Wellington, where they always bought half a side of spring lamb once a month, chopped up appropriately into stewing, roast and barbecue cuts. She couldn't ask them if they did, as they had both passed away by this time, and all the butchers in Courtenay Place had closed down, ever since the New World supermarket opened up for business across from the fire station.

Without batting an eyelid or uttering a word, the butcher opened the door that led to the cold storage. He came back carrying half a carcass with a bushy black tail, presumably the other half of the animal that was hanging on the display hook. He was probably used to this kind of customer, the ghost dressed in black, as Dimitra liked to call her. Harikleia peered at the tail and nodded. "Yes, it is goat." She stared at it closely, just below the tail. Her last question sounded totally irrelevant to the circumstances: "But it's a male goat, isn't it?" The butcher quickly retorted, as if expecting this remark, "That's all I've got today, madam." "Meat from male animals has an off-putting smell when you cook it, Dimitra. Trust us, we know about this better than you do," Yiani tried to explain to her. The balance of the sexes is kept in order by Nature who ensures that enough of both sexes are born to continue the breed. "Then who ends up buying male meat if you say it stinks? Is it left to rot and thrown away?" It was pointless for Dimitra to argue about such a culturally controversial issue. So Harikleia asked for chicken instead, and Dimitra told Yiani that if he wanted his wife to cook meat in the house, he'd have to bring it to her, otherwise, he'd have to convert to vegetarianism for the rest of his life.

"I'll let Yiani know, Mama, he knows the kind of chicken meat you want."

"Is Yiani at work?" No matter what he was doing, if Mama wanted something, he'd stop and fetch it for her. He never said no to his Mama.

"Yes, he's in town, it won't be difficult for him to stop off at the market, Mama." You know that, she felt like adding.

"So many responsibilities rest on his shoulders," sighed Harikleia. Dimitra could hear the children waging a war against each other in the car. "We need some milk, and we're out of soap." Margaret remembered what they needed just in time before Dimitra left the house, huddling her arms round her as if she felt cold, even though it was a warm sunny day in March.

*** *** ***
Saturday mornings were now always a pleasure for Dimitra. It was the only time in the week that she spent on the only form of exercise she got these days - she loved walking. Hania however was not a walker's paradise. The roads were often full of potholes, the sidewalks narrow, the streets dusty. There were too many cars being driven by reckless drivers. The port area was supposed to be car-free, but even there drivers disobeyed the law by bringing their cars into the designated pedestrian zone. It was a trial to walk anywhere with children; now she was rid of them early enough to enjoy a hassle-free walk from the cafes by Koum Kapi to the former mosque at the main square by the harbour, and then on into the shopping district of the town, before it was time to pick up the children and go home to cook lunch.

Despite its hazardous road conditions, Hania felt like a safe town to Dimitra, at least during the day, and since she was not a night person, preferring to rise early and seize the day by its horns, she didn't care what she heard about what happened in Hania at night. When she lived in Wellington, she walked a great deal. Her walks were taken for the sole purpose of walking and taking in the view. There was no reason why she had to walk a particular route. She simply walked because she liked to walk. She liked to walk by the sea and look up at the hills of the town belt directly above the bays. Starting from her house, the walk would take her along the business district of Kent Terrace, past the large pub across from the Embassy cinema which always had its doors and windows open during the day, presumably to air it, since it stank of beer and cigarette smoke even as Dimitra walked outside it (she had never been inside and had never wished to), past the fire station, onto Oriental Parade. She felt privileged to live within walking distance of the town beach stretching below the foot of the hill which was covered in pine trees.

But once she reached the old pavilion at Oriental Bay, the road started to frighten her; it was void of human life, apart from the few joggers who sped by with their dark sunglasses and walkmans plugged into their ears, staring straight ahead of them, and the odd loner walking a dog. They probably didn't even notice her, as they would be absorbed in their own activities. Once she reached Point Jermingham, she would quicken her pace and stop every now and then to look behind her, in case someone was following her and she hadn't noticed them. This stopped her from enjoying the breathtaking views of the Roseneath hills and the stunning atmosphere of the quiet bays with their pebbly shores. The privilege she felt to live within walking distance of the sea was overshadowed by the fear that all those nasty things that were reported in the newspapers would happen to her in this lonely stretch of scenic beauty, because she had theaudacity to enjoy it alone. It defied the purpose of the walk. Even the road across from the shore looked uninviting. The people who had built houses on the hillside needed cable car lifts to access them. There was always a strong breeze blowing in the area; it was shaded and received little sunshine for most of the day. Despite its lure as a seaside suburb, it felt too hostile; the houses were silent, the curtains never moved, the windows were closed. It resembled a dormitory town, even though it was only a few minutes walk to the city centre.

But this did not apply to Hania. There were always plenty of people enjoying a walk around the area of the harbour; women pushing prams, men jiggling worry beads, children riding bikes. Kitchens smelled of the aromas that were going to be enjoyed for lunch, shutters were open with curtains moving against the light breeze, rugs were hanging over balconies to be aired, old people were sitting close to the door to keep away from the draught and still be able to enjoy the atmosphere of the colourful little town that they may have lived in all their life, without ever seeking other shores.

*** *** ***

First, she parked the car close to the art academy, dropped her daughter off and walked her son to the chess club close by. She was normally free at this point to roam the town for the next two hours before picking them up again. If she didn't feel like walking, she could choose to go window-shopping, buy a magazine and read at a cafe, or browse through the stalls at Saturday's street market. The town itself wasn't very big, and she could easily cross it twice and walk its circumference in less than the two hours she had to herself.

Today wasn't as free as she had hoped it would be; feeling the weight of the honey jar, she was reminded of her assigned task. She chose the route from the district court, walking past the old mansions lining the former Dimokratias Street, now known as Papandreou Street. The signs had been changed overnight by the PASOK-based city council once the former leader of the left-wing party died, leaving the residents wondering whether the road had been moved to another part of the town right under their noses. The road led to the Agora, where she would have to find a honey supplier.

The Agora's purpose seemed to have become obsolete. Although it was not in decline, it was very much a tourist trap. When she had first arrived in Hania, Dimitra was taken in by its exoticness in and around the square where the Agora was located: a gypsy woman walking up and down its wide corridors selling embroidered tablecloths, old men hawking lottery tickets, a young boy being pushed in a wheelchair by his mother asking for spare drachma. After a few years of living in the town, she got tired of seeing the gypsy woman selling old-fashioned items that nobody seemed to use any longer, the lottery ticket vendors who seemed to push the tickets under your nose, and the paralytic son whose mother always seemed to hit the streets just before Christmas, Easter and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. Its vegetable stalls didn't hint anything towards organic production, and she couldn't distinguish any special feature to force her to choose any one of the meat, fish and poultry stalls over the local village butcher. There were more souvenir shops and food outlets than what one would have expected of a traditional Greek market.

As she entered, she passed a group of tourists: young, blond, thin, wearing low-slung trousers, singlet tops and flip-flops. The good Hania weather easily fooled most people during the day. But once night fell, the humidity settled and the evenings would become cold enough to shiver in such clothing, especially along the harbour where the tourists usually congested. She saw a row of honey jars on the display case at one of the stalls. As she approached it, she noticed another row of honey jars on display directly opposite the first stall. She knew it wouldn't make any difference which stall she chose, but she wondered just what criteria her mother-in-law used when choosing which stall to mark out as her favorite.



As she was trying to make up her mind which stall to go to, she saw Kiki, the mother of one of her son's classmates, looking very busy and wearing a large white apron behind a butcher's counter. She neared the counter, narrowly avoiding crashing into the tail of a hige specimen of black-skinned fish lying in a supermarket trolley. A man was selling raffle tickets for it: "Simera klironete, prolavete na parete! (Raffle finishes today! Buy your tickets in time!)"


"Dimitra how nice to see you here, you don't often come this way, do you?" No, Dimitra didn't often come into the market; even if she came into Hania every day of the week, the last place she'd go to was the Agora.

"Hello, Kiki, I didn't realise you worked here."

Kiki was a lovely smiling happy woman whose children, in Dimitra's opinion, were very well-mannered and not as boisterous as the other children in the village school. "Oh, I usually help my husband out in his stall every Saturday, you know," she winked as she spoke, "just to keep him company." As she spoke, an Asian peddler passed the stall, carrying an array of goods in a box which she supported with a strap over her head.


What have I got to lose, Dimitra thought. "Kiki, do you think you could help me out?" She explained the situation with her mother-in-law, how she had broken her leg and was now bedridden. "Oh dear," said Kiki, "those old people - it's either pesimo (a fall) or hesimo (soiling themselves) with them." Dimitra was shocked at the crudeness of the joke, but it seemed so fitting for the occasion. She burst out laughing; she hadn't laughed like this in a while. There was no one around at home that could crack a joke with her like this one about her mother-in-law's condition. It was treated as a serious matter. She daydreamed about telling her husband what Kiki had said to her. Would he call it blasphemy, or would he laugh with her? At that moment, she was glad to be away from the house.

"Just this morning," Dimitra continued, "she asked me if I could buy her a chicken, but I'm worried that I might bring something for her that she won't like."

"Is that what you're thinking, dear?" Kiki was a large matronly woman, perfectly suited to her role as the butcher's wife. "Did she tell you what she wanted it for, pilafi, roast, a feather duster?" Dimitra wondered why she had shunned the Agora on her previous walks.

"Actually, I didn't ask her, but I could always phone her." Dimitra took out her mobile phone. She would never have even put the idea of calling her up in her mind, if it hadn't been for the chance occasion of bumping into Kiki. Margaret answered the phone but didn't speak. Dimitra could hear her passing the receiver on to her mother-in-law.

"Nai? Poios einai?"

"Mama, I'm in the Agora--" Her mother-in-law interrupted her. "You're in the Agora now?"

"Yes, Mama, I'm at a butcher's stall. I know the owner. Would you like me to buy you some chicken?" She could hear the delight in her mother-in-law's voice. "Yes, yes, buy whatever you find. Just check that it's small and lean. But make sure it's dopio (local)."

Dimitra called out to Kiki. "A small one with no fat, Kiki, is it dopio?" Zeta laughed. "They're all dopio, just like us."

"Mama, I'll do what I can, entaxi." She ended the phone call. "If she doesn't like this chicken, she won't like any other," Kiki mused. Dimitra half-heartedly thought about asking if the chicken was male or female, but decided against it. It might sound catty, speaking ill of the old woman. She started to feel sorry for her. For so long, Dimitra had been waging a losing battle to try to be accepted as the foreigner that she was and couldn't help being. Now the tables had turned, and her mother-in-law had to rely on two foreigners for her daily needs. She wondered how accepting she would be in her old age of other people's attempts to please her. The two women chatted about school matters - mainly the outrageous dress style of the young teacher in their sons' class - until another customer came by, and Dimitra felt that she was holding Kiki up in her work, when she suddenly remembered the honey jar.

"Kiki, where can I get this jar filled with honey?"

"Grigori, ela!" Kiki called out to her husband. "Hang on a moment, and I'll take you to someone who sells really good honey." Kiki's husband came to the counter. Kiki introduced them to each other and excused herself. "Come with me," she said to Dimitra, as she led her through the corridors of the Agora to another stall, much further away from her own stall. She obviously didn't support her neighbours' stalls.

When she finally stopped at a stall, she explained to Dimitra: "This man's a beekeeper, and he only sells what he himself produces. It's really good stuff." She turned to the stall owner. "Yiasou Niko! I've bought you a customer!"

Dimitra knew she could have asked anyone else in the Agora, and they would have done the same thing as Kiki - taken her to their friend's stalls, 'dikos mou anthropos', their own person, someone who they supposedly trust because they know them, and not much else. She thanked Kiki and bought out the honey jar.
*** *** ***

Walking with a kilo's worth of glass, another kilo of honey and a two-kilo chicken under a hot midday sun was not much fun. Dimitra walked all the way back to where she had left the car and put away the shopping bags. She picked up the children and drove home. Her mother-in-law was sleeping when she arrived home, so she left the honey and chicken with Margaret. She then went upstairs and got the midday lunch going. She was curious to see what her mother-in-law would say about the shopping.

In the afternoon, Dimitra took down some spinach pie which she had baked for the evening snack. "Kalispera, Mama, I've made some spinach pie with the last of the spinach you had planted in the garden last season."

"Oh, did it grow very tall?" her mother-in-law asked.

"No," replied Dimitra, "it wasn't very bushy, but there was a lot of it. I've made three pies with it so far."

"That was some chicken you bought there. It's just what I would have bought myself." Her mother-in-law wasn't exactly complimenting her, but maybe this was her way of thanking her without actually spelling it out. Dimitra was relieved. She didn't care about the chicken. She had enjoyed the unexpected rapport with Kiki, and she knew she would go into the Agora again, just to meet up with her friend for another quick laugh. Maybe she could change butchers, but on second thoughts, she preferred to shop close to where she could park the car.

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